From Darkness to Thrivability

Black Forest night

I have been championing thrivability for almost a decade now (since February 2007). What a journey! Lately, I have felt a struggle to champion it in the face of loss and change and setbacks. I feel, even implicitly, the pushback — usually unarticulated — about “daring to talk about thriving in the face of loss and crisis.”

So maybe now is the time to say publicly that I come to thrivability through a journey of loss and crisis. If you glance at me, you might pick up that I am white or an attractive woman or middle class and dismiss me as someone who doesn’t understand suffering and loss.

photo courtesy of Tony Deifell

Look on others kindly, for we do not know their path and their suffering.

Maybe your first glance doesn’t catch that I have a physical deformity that means that I was in surgery multiple times before I was three and again at 15. I will never have the experience of being a normal body, no matter how slender my body or pretty my face may be. I don’t go to yoga class because when you can’t do downward facing dog, it isn’t worth it. Most moves transition through postures that use your arms, straight, which I can’t. But this isn’t a pity party. I may not be able to do a push up or play volleyball, but I can run and swim and kayak and lots of other things. I focus on what I can do and not on what I can’t. I learned that at a young age. Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t.

At first glance I might seem to be living some sort of dream life, traveling the world talking with interesting people, enjoying sunset picnics on the beach, and living out my life goals. Yes, well, that is because I remade myself from the ground up. I wasn’t handed this life on a golden platter. I was diagnosed with PTSD at the tender age of 21. It was a result of believing that the person closest to me was going to murder me and erase me from existence. I felt like I had no one to turn to. I trusted no one. I know exactly what I look like at my very worst, my deepest darkest moments. And I built who I am up from that place, on purpose, over many years. I found therapy in my early 20s to be deeply counter-productive. Instead I wrote poetry and sat in my own muck sorting myself out. I slowly let people back into my life, and they turned out to be worthy of trust. Around 32 I was trained as a life coach, but by then most of the approach was becoming intuitive to me anyway. And at 35, I started talking about thrivability.

I am not a Mary Poppins blindly optimistic sort. My optimism is a conscious choice. I imagine being on the Titanic while it is sinking. Do I want to scream and yell about it? Do I want to gobble up all the champagne and caviar I can find? Or do I want to take some action and hold some hope that I can find a way through? Do I want to help others, as much as I can before the end? The predicament may be dire, but there is no way through if I don’t try and don’t believe the impossible is possible. I choose action, hope, and helping. I choose it because it is who I want to be in this moment, regardless of what outcome occurs.

Thrivability is not about achieving some state in the future, some sublime perfect state. Thrivability is about aiming toward it and giving everything you have toward the possibility of greatness. Your greatness, our greatness, the world’s greatness. As Camus said: “Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.”

Do not play small. Do not make yourself small. Live into greatness now. Strive now. It is not the achievement that matters. It is playing with all you have got now that matters.

There are two other quotes which form cornerstones for me:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

~ Marianne Williamson

And this quote, to me, reminds me not to collapse into fear and shame and doubt but instead to shine my light brightly. Not so that I outshine others, but so that I give permission to others to shine just as or more brightly. I can transform the darkness that comes my way into the brightness of a new day.

The other quote is one Brené Brown uses for Daring Greatly… from Theodore Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena speech:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Who are we not to live into our greatness? Together let us dare greatly to make the world we want, one full of compassion, dialogue, understanding. One where we ask forgiveness for our wrongdoings and try once more each new day to do right, live rightly, and love each other.

When we are at our worst is when we most need to yearn for thrivability.